Well, what can I say? Let’s see… I really enjoyed the Panamanian visa process… I have so many great memories of navigating the congested streets of Panama and being herded through the different government buildings visa like cattle… and I enjoyed sitting on the floor thanks to the inadequate seating… not!
The truth is that the Panama visa process is not an enjoyable experience. You’re dealing with unattentive and unmotivated government workers. I’ve learned that government workers are just the same no matter where they are or what language they speak! So while this process is not fun, and you’re not going to enjoy it, your misery index can be lowered quite a few points by managing your expectations of the experience and understanding the different Panama visa types and requirements to obtain those visas.
People interested in either visiting Panama or staying long-term often reach out to us with questions about their visa alternatives. While each person’s case is unique and depends on their country of origin, family situation, duration, purpose of stay, and other things such as economic means, today we will describe 3 common paths to obtain permanent residency in Panama.
Visiting Panama as a Tourist
First of all, visiting Panama the requires a Tourist Visa. For citizens of Canada, USA and western/central Europe, this means holding a passport with validity longer than 6 months, and a returning ticket to your country of origin. Don’t forget the return ticket or you’ll be sorry! If you don’t know when you’re leaving, then by a separate return ticket the day of your travel to Panama and cancel it as soon as you reach your destination.
Airlines are required by law to fully refund a ticket within 24 hours of purchase. Out of everything else talked about here, read this last part with understanding, memorize it, write it down, and act on it!. There’s nothing worse than standing in the international outbound flight line with your family, with all of your luggage, and being unable to produce a return ticket, and being denied a seat on the plane.
That being said, tourist status usually allow citizens of Canada, the US, and the UK to stay in the country for 180 days ** and drive a car with your country’s driver license for 90 days.
Popular options to be a Panamanian Resident
The tourist visa is an option if you plan to stay in the country for less than 6 months. It becomes a bit cumbersome, however, as it may limit you for driving. Many people choose to stay perpetual tourists if they’re going to live here, and simply leave Panama at visa-convenient times, with trips either back to their country of origin or vacations to Costa Rica, as Panama requires that you exit the country for at least 72 hours before being allowed back in.
Just remember that as a tourist, you are considered a guest in the country. A permanent residency visa provides you a legal right to be here. Visiting Panama to get acquainted with the country is always a good start ponit. But if you plan to stay long-term, or even come back-and-forth over the following years, then you might want to consider these popular permanent visa options:
Friendly Nations Visa: The government began this program in 2012 to encourage citizens of any of the 47 countries qualified to participate in the Friendly Nations Visa Program to strengthen their ties with Panama. The program follows an expedited process that may grant permanent residence in less than a year, and citizenship in less than three years. This is an option of choice for may expats coming from North America or Europe. The visa requirements involve opening a bank account in the country, and either having a job, or investing in real estate, or creating your own business. It has been the most popular option for permanent residency visas since its inception.
Pensioner or Retired Visa: This type of visa, which includes discounts on products and services, was designed for foreigners who would like to retire in Panama on a pension. The applicant must demonstrate an income of at least US $1,000 per month for life, in the form of a pension from the government, a retirement agency, or a private company. The visa requires an additional $250 of income for the spouse, or each accompanying dependant. A recipient of this visa will enjoy significant discounts in many areas of life including restaurants, hotels, airfare and utilities.
The Investor Visa: Tailored for those who want to open or acquire a business in Panama, this Visa requires a minimum investment of US $ 150,000. Such local business must hire at least 3 Panamanians. Keep in mind there are certain business sectors protected for panamanians, such as medical doctors and accountants. For that reason, the investor must operate a business outside those sectors reserved to Panamanians.
There are other visa options not covered in this article, like the professional residency permit, the forestry investor visa, the self-sufficiency visa, and the missionary visa. Our team at PanamaKeys includes seasoned immigration lawyers that will recommend the right solution for your situation. Contact us today!
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This article provides a basis of information and shall not be construed as legal advice.
** Updated on Jan 11 2017 to reflect changes in the Panama Tourist Visa